Thursday, December 19, 2013

NASA rigs up snorkel in ISS spacesuit after risky water leak

Michael Hopkins
US astronaut Michael Hopkins waves on September 26, 2013 before the launch of a Soyuz-FG rocket at the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan 

Snorkels in space? 

NASA dreamed up the idea as a quick fix to a dangerous spacesuit problem so astronauts can step out to repair an equipment breakdown at the International Space Station.

One of the two US astronauts preparing to embark on a series of spacewalks later this week and next will be wearing an American-made suit that had a helmet leak in July, nearly drowning the European astronaut who wore it.

The three emergency spacewalks are planned for December 21, 23 and 25 in order to fix a broken cooling system at the orbiting outpost.

Luca Parmitano
An investigation into the cause of the leak that flooded ESA's Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano's helmet and forced him to rush back inside the station in July is still ongoing, NASA officials told reporters Wednesday.

Therefore, faced with an unexpected valve failure last week in the system that regulates the temperature of equipment aboard the 15-year-old orbiting outpost, NASA engineers had to scramble to figure out a way to make the US spacesuits safe for use.

First off, they have replaced the water pump system in the suit Parmitano wore.

In addition, an extra helmet absorption pad has been installed at the inside back of the helmet to soak up any potential leak, and a snorkel has been rigged up to offer another breathing route if needed.

"Some smart engineers on the ground were able to figure out, 'Hey this is a similar diameter to a snorkel that you have for scuba diving,'" said NASA lead spacewalk officer Allison Bolinger.

"By just sacrificing one of our spares on board they were able to come up with a way to just snip off the ends and then file it so it is not rough in the crew member's mouth and then apply Velcro."

Rick Mastracchio
American astronaut Mike Hopkins will be wearing the suit Parmitano wore. Both he and fellow US astronaut Rick Mastracchio will have the new snorkels and pads inside their spacesuits as a safety measure.

Their task is to remove the pump module with the faulty valve and replace it with a spare pump that was already aboard the ISS.

Even though the formal investigation into the leaking helmet has not been completed, NASA officials said they were confident that their back-up solutions would allow the astronauts to be safe on their risky outings.

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